Shipping Needs a Steve Jobs

Shipping Needs a Steve Jobs
Dr. Martin Stopford; Image source: ABB

The shipping industry is ready for the introduction of new technology, all we need is a new generation of tech-savvy middle and senior managers, says Dr. Martin Stopford, author of textbook Maritime Economics.

“The introduction of new technology is hindered by the industry’s current wide-spread lack of technical knowledge,” Dr. Stopford said in the latest issue of ABB-s Generations 2014.

“I don’t know who in the maritime business has the capability, the budget and the resources to put that sort of thing together. What shipping needs is a Steve Jobs.”

Dr. Stopford believes that the late Apple CEO offers a good example of transforming the company through understanding the market, adapting technology and “sticking with an idea.”

Shipping Needs a Steve Jobs

“Shipping is an old-fashioned business. We, who have grown up with it, may like it that way. Fortunately, there’s a new generation out there that don’t have the baggage we have.

“We need people at board level who understand technology and have the vision and authority to make it work at the very top of the company. It will take at least 10 years to breed a new generation of middle and senior management in shipping who really understand how to put all the pieces together.

Dr. Stopford added that the shipbuilding industry was suffering from the same symptoms when it comes to the lack of technical depth, adding that almost the same ship has been built since 1985.

Certain segments of the shipping industry are, however, taking advantage of the constantly developing technology. Communications, cargo handling, navigation and propulsion industries are introducing elaborate technical solutions as a response to future environmental and operational challenges.

Shipping Needs a Steve Jobs
Nakashima’s innovative carbon fiber reinforced plastic propeller

“The reality is that owners of shipping companies are often not very technical. They don’t know what’s possible, and if you’re delivering an electronic engine to them and the chief engineer can’t work it, how do you escape from that conundrum?”

Shipping could be launched into the 21st century with reinstated technical competence combined with visionary management, creating a new breed of technologically literate companies “able to break the mould.”

Those who refuse to, or are not able to “reengineer” themselves, Dr. Stopford pegs as doomed.

“After 50 years of global free trade, the shipping industry is looking towards an era where it needs to pick up its bed and walk. It needs to do something different. Just carrying on building slightly bigger ships with each generation, and otherwise roughly doing what you did before, is running out of steam.”

Shipping’s stakeholders “don’t have to be Steve Jobs” to figure out how crucial it is to come up with a new way of operating which will enable them to use the “tidal wave of information technology.”

“Anyone who has run a business knows it’s not about figuring out what’s happening. It’s about getting a vision and putting one foot in front of the other. It’s an act of faith. You don’t really know until you get there whether you can do it.”

Source: ABB Generations 2014, September 24, 2014